In a matchup that has the makings of a classic, IBF junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu (31-1, 25 KOs, 1 ND) will defend his title against the enormously popular, undefeated hometown favorite, Ricky Hatton (38-0, 28 KOs), in the most hostile of environments – the challenger’s backyard before 18,000 fans at MEN Arena in Manchester, England on Saturday, June 4, on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). The highly anticipated event, yet another potential Showtime Championship Boxing Fight of the Year, begins live at 2 a.m. in England.
Ricky Hatton spoke with the boxing press and he was candid about his chances against Kostya Tszyu.
Hatton: I have been waiting a long time. I think it is long overdue. I have had several big fights fall through over the last 12 months, but obviously, after securing the biggest fight that is out there in the end, it turned out better than I could have imagined. So I am hugely looking forward to it.
Question: How do you prepare for a fight that starts at 2 a.m. in England?
Hatton: The previous two weeks, I have been doing my road work at 2:00 in the morning, the same time at which the fight will take place. To be honest, the first three or four days were a little bit awkward and tiring until my body got into the swing of things. This is my second week now and it just feels like second nature and we have two more weeks to go. This week I will go in and do a couple of gym sessions because working out at 2:00 in the morning is very different, doing sparring and pad work. Obviously, your brain needs to be taking over to do the pad work where with road work, to a certain degree; you can just basically get your head down and get on with it.
Question: Do you feel this is the fight that is going to finally silence your critics once and for all?
Hatton: I think probably so. When you think of the best names on my record, I would probably say they are Ben Tackie, Vince Phillips, Ray Olivera – all good names – but obviously, there are bigger names out there. Through no fault of Ricky Hatton those fights have not taken place. So I put a little bit more pressure on my promoter to secure those fights because of the criticism I was receiving. I found it was getting me down terribly because I was crying out for those fights and people were starting to believe that I did not want the big fights. But now after securing the biggest fight out there, I can sit back and say that it has all turned out for the best.
Question: The 140-pound weight class is probably the deepest and most talented in boxing. Do you see this fight as maybe the launch to some sort of tournament to see who the best 140-pounder in the world is?
Hatton: I hope so. Obviously, I think with what Kostya Tszyu achieved with his last result, to come out and put the performance he did against Sharmba Mitchell, I think he deserves to be universally recognized as the No. 1 boxer. As if that was not a big enough scalp to go for, I think what makes it more exciting is what could be down the line – fights with either Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather or Vivian Harris. The victor of this fight not only wins the IBF belt and will be universally recognized as the No. 1 rank, is also guaranteed a shot at one of those guys. So the incentive is even greater. That is a role that I would certainly like to go down to if I win, and I believe I will do so.
Question: You will be fighting before a very pro Ricky Hatton crowd. When the bell rings, it is just you and Kostya Tszyu. How much of a home ring advantage do you have?
Hatton: I think it could be an advantage, but only a very slight one. I think Kostya Tszyu is so effective that if anybody can deal with going into somebody’s backyard in a hostile atmosphere, I think he can. My crowd is a little bit different. I have been to fights in the States and the atmosphere is definitely different. The atmosphere at a Ricky Hatton fight tends to be more what you would relate to as a soccer match. It can be very vocal, very loud and very passionate. So it may give me an advantage because I think no matter how experienced you are, I think you have to be a very tough man for it not to affect you.
Question: Do you think that a reason why a couple of your fights fell out was that (promoter) Frank (Warren) felt the criticism was affecting you too much?
Hatton: No, I do not think so. It is just that I had reached the stage where I was facing decent enough names, but obviously not the cream of the crop in the junior welterweight division. Like any champion when you first win a belt, you like to make several defenses and enhance your reputation likewise. But when so many of these big fights fell through, it was getting me down. You cannot help but see what people are writing and they were saying I was running away from the big fights. If anybody wanted the big fights, it was me. At the end of the day the fights falling out paved the way for me to get the biggest fight out there.
Question: If you win, do you feel like you would still need to come to America to fight a Gatti or Mayweather to really put your name on the map?
Hatton: If I beat Kostya Tszyu, I do not think I will need to go to America to prove myself. It has been a dream of mine ever since the day I laced on gloves to fight in the United States. Without a shadow of a doubt, if I beat Kostya Tszyu, which I am confident I will do, I will insist that we go over to the States because it is another stage of my career which needs doing. I do not want people to think that I just stay in the comfort zone of Manchester.
Question: Mike Tyson’s fight in 2000 sold out in two days; this fight sold out in two hours. You even had to scramble to get tickets, did you not?
Hatton: When I turned professional at age 18, if you would have said that I would sell out a boxing venue quicker than Mike Tyson, who in fact is one of my all time heroes, I think I would have told you you were crazy. I feel very proud of that achievement.
Question: How much respect do you have for Tszyu taking you on in your hometown? Not very many fighters would do what he is doing, no matter how much they are paid.
Hatton: That is why he is No. 1 one in the division and pound for pound is one of the best. He is coming over to Manchester and fighting at 2:00 in the morning and he has not batted an eyelid – of course, he is getting very well paid for it – but this just shows why he is the champion that he is.
Question: What is the key to beating Kostya Tszyu?
Hatton: Styles make fights. I am not going to go off his age because a lot of fighters get better as they get older and more experienced. Certainly, that seems to be the case with Kostya because he has never looked so good and in his last fight, he looked fantastic. I think a lot of fighters try to give ground to Kostya and so I think with my style of closing the distance, I think it is something different from what Kostya is used to. I know what the dangers are and I know what his strengths are, but I feel I have the tools to do the job.
Question: Regarding Kostya’s inactivity in the ring the past two years, do you think your pressure is perfect for a fighter who has had a long layoff?
Hatton: I think ultimately my style, which is my body punching, my conditioning, my volume of punching, is the style to give Kostya problems. I believe the last time he fought Vince Phillips, Vince set a hot pace, stood his ground more and had it out with Kostya. I think the pace did catch up with Kostya Tszyu and although Kostya has improved immensely since that fight, I think that made him a better fighter. I know he trains meticulously and his training sessions are supposed to be some of the most grueling, but I am confident that I can match him in the stamina. I am going to need a little bit more than just my body punching and my strength to beat Kostya, but I believe I have got that in my armory.
Question: Would you prefer the fight to not go to the judges?
Hatton: If it goes to the judges, obviously, it will go 12 rounds which makes the fight very, very grueling. Kostya is a big puncher. I just think at the end of the day, judges at this level sometimes can make mistakes, but I am not looking along those lines. I will just take each round as it comes. I expect Kostya to be very dangerous all the way through the fight and in particular the opening rounds because that is where they have had so much success early. But I am very confident. I think I have the tools to do the job and I think ultimately I have got to put the pressure on him and help to set the pace, but I think I have got to be very intelligent in the way to do that because you cannot just march into Kostya Tszyu and expect to walk free. That is just not going to happen.
Question: Do you think this fight is going the distance?
Hatton: I think Kostya would rather it not go the distance. If anything, I think Kostya is the most sharpest and dangerous early on and I think with my strength-sapping style, body punching type, I would like to think it would shift in my favor the longer it goes. So there is a good chance of that, but I am just going to take each round as it goes.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about your body work and how dangerous it is, the hook to the body against somebody with a big right hand like Kostya Tszyu?
Hatton: Obviously, that is Kostya’s main strength, so all the training that we have done is geared around that right hand. I believe I have a lot more attributes. Obviously, every time I throw that left hook to the body, he is going to look to come over with the right cross. So we have been doing certain things in the gym to try and cancel out that. But I have a good right hook to the body as well and I have got a lot more things in my armory.
Question: Are you Manchester’s boxing version of David Beckham?
Hatton: Manchester United to me is like garlic to a vampire, to be honest with you. But I think in many ways, I suppose, I am boxing’s terms (version) of David Beckham because I am not a loud mouth. Most people see that I am down to earth. I just get on with the job. That is the way I would like to think a professional sportsman should be and that they like my style of fighting.
Question: Are you concerned that there may be issues of safety for either you or Kostya this late at night?
Hatton: That is hard to answer. When the fight was first announced that it was going to be 2:00 in the morning, I did have my doubts. But now that I have seen the lengths that the MEN Arena, the Manchester police and everybody have gone to, I feel better about it now. Alcohol is not going to be served in the Arena up to a certain time to help prevent that. There is extra police staff around the city, and around the MEN Arena, the security is going to be absolutely watertight. Basically, if the fans are drinking external to the venue and they are too drunk, they will not be let in. So I am not too bothered about what is going to happen. I think they have done everything possible to make sure that there will be security. I think the way it has all been handled has been absolutely first class.
Question: Are you preparing for a full attack or just the right hand for this fight?
Hatton: Well, Kostya is known for his right hand, but he can hit really hard with both hands. He has a good left hook to the body. So it is not one specific thing. We are working on the whole picture. We know what his strengths are and we see what weaknesses that he might have. My favorite punch is the left hook to the body and he is going to come over with right crosses. He likes to throw long right-handers, but I believe my short left hook might get there a little bit quicker. I believe I have an edge in speed. Everybody is open somewhere. I am not afraid of his right hand; I will not be backing away from the right hand. I will be trying to move inside the right hand, which obviously is very dangerous, but fighters who have tried to stay on the outside and keep out of the way of the right hand has not worked. Kostya does not normally have too many people that will stand there and have it out with him. The last person to do that was Vince Phillips who had a lot of success in doing that. I have got several plans.
Question: Is your weight going to be a factor in this fight or your career?
Hatton: This fight has been no different than any other. Maybe I was a little bit heavier than normal, but I think that was the longest break that I have had in between fights for some time. I was not worried. I gave myself a long preparation, a 14-week buildup. Because I got my weight down early enough in the first few weeks, the training has intensified and I have been able to train hard and eat well which is very important. I have always been one to put weight on very quickly, but it always seems to fly off when I start training.
Question: What will your tactics be?
Hatton: I do not want to give away my top tricks, but I think I have got to be a lot more careful and cagey than what I have done in some recent fights. Sometimes I have left myself open to silly shots, but I think you will find that when I have done that is when I have been in with guys who have probably not got the punching power to hurt me. Certain fighters, you can take chances, but there are fights that you cannot take chances with and obviously Kostya Tszyu is one of them.
Question: The weight gain has very much a part of your preparation. Was it a conscious decision to put on more to make you work out that much harder?
Hatton: No, not really. It is just the norm for me and, with me being the short and stocky type, it tends to show a little bit more.
Question: Can you elaborate about what you think of Miguel Cotto and how you feel that he stole a little bit of your spot in the division because of his promotion?
Hatton: I was down to box Kelson Pinto for the vacant WBO title, and the week before the fight – even to this day I am not exactly sure what the problem was. I heard his wife was pregnant and then I also heard he had contract difficulties with his manager. So I am not sure what happened, but it was a big chance for me, a big fight, he was a big name opponent and a fight I was looking forward to. But like many fights, it unfortunately fell through for me at the last minute and a few months later he went on and boxed Miguel Cotto, who put on a fantastic performance. It just felt like the story of my career, of another missed opportunity. So part of me thought that could have been me. So that is the main reason why I was frustrated. I am a Miguel Cotto fan really. I have to say if you are a boxing fan, if you are not a Miguel Cotto fan, you are not really a boxing fan in many ways. He is very good to watch and a wonderful talent and someone I hope to share the ring with down the line.
Question: So if you win this fight, you will be looking forward to meeting Cotto in the future?
Hatton: There would be so many great fights out there and if I beat Kostya Tszyu, which I am confident I will do, I will have no fear of fighting anybody and that includes Miguel Cotto. It is a fight I look forward to and every time he fights, he seems to get better. As well as he is looking, I do not think that it is a fight that I cannot win.
Question: How do you feel about being called the underdog in this fight?
Hatton: I am quite relishing the prospects really. Sometimes when you are expected to win every fight or you are the favorite for every fight, sometimes it puts you under pressure. Although I am under pressure still to win this fight, it is a nice pressure to be underdog. Not many people expect me to beat Kostya and rightly so with what he has done and what he has achieved and who he has beaten. So I understand I am the underdog and rightly so since I have not boxed anybody in the league of Kostya, but it will make the victory that much better when I achieve it.
Question: Awhile back you said one of your main game plans was to attack him with a subtle swump. Can you expand on that?
Hatton: I think my style – my volume of punches, my pace, my body punching – I think that is what I am recognized for and I think ultimately that is what will cause Kostya problems and could beat him. Obviously, someone as good as Kostya Tszyu and hits like Kostya Tszyu, I am not just going to beat him on that alone. So obviously, I have got to be very resourceful about the way I do it. I have got to be very acute defensively. I cannot just steam in there 100 miles an hour and expect to win. Tactically, I have got to be very good as well. I do not think most people know how clever I am in the ring. They just see the obvious. He comes forward, he attacks, he body punches, but I have more than that and obviously I think that is what will make the difference in the fight.
Question: Does it make you feel good that you have the biggest fish at 140 and it is coming at a time when every junior welterweight is going to be fighting right after you?
Hatton: Absolutely because, obviously, I will be gaining a fight with any of those guys. There is so much more at stake with a victory in this fight. It could not come at a better time. I feel that because of the age that I am, every time I have gone into training for a fight, I have gotten a little bit better and improved as you do with experience. I think because I got the fight that I always dreamed of and it is such a huge fight and Kostya is such a good opponent, from day one, it just seems I have gotten a little bit quicker, a little bit stronger and a little bit sharper. There just seems to be more purpose and more quality in everything across the board because I have secured the fight I have always dreamed of. I think that just made it a little bit more exciting than usual. I believe I will win it. I know people just think that I have to say that, but I believe I will win this fight 100 percent. There is no doubt in my mind.
Question: What if Kostya throws all caution to the wind and tries to take you out early? Do you feel you can match his power and do you feel you have the same ability to knock him out early?
Hatton: I do think I can match his power. I do not think I am a one-punch knockout merchant where obviously Kostya has proved that. But I am accurate. I hit hard and I hit often and I hit in the right places. I am physically strong. I have seen Kostya and he is very physically strong. He threw Mitchell all over the place in the first fight and it is hard to throw people like that. If he wants to get involved in that game with me, then I am sure I will be a worthy match in that department. If he does come out and try to finish me, we will go at it. That is right up my street (alley). I believe the close quarter stuff is something that I have an advantage over Kostya in. If he tries to box me, that will be a good thing because not a lot of people realize I like people giving ground. I am very good at covering the distance and covering the distance quickly. But if he wants to stay there and go toe to toe, I believe I have proven in the past I am very good at that. I am prepared for every outcome and every way which Kostya wants to come.
Question: Do you feel people underestimate your ring skills as far as techniques and defense?
Hatton: I do. I have to be honest. I understand why they think that because I have beaten some good men, but I have not fought anybody of the class of Kostya yet. Even though I have fought good quality fighters, I have never needed to dig deep and find that extra stuff that I have in the back. Even if you find my best ever performance, you still have not seen half of what I have got. Obviously, Kostya Tszyu is a step up in class and I think I will need everything I have got to win this fight and I believe Kostya will bring it all out of me.
Question: Even though he had such a tremendous fight against Sharmba Mitchell, do you think that Kostya is ripe to be had and that you are the one that is going to take him?
Hatton: He has not shown any signs of that in particular in his last fight, but the only thing I will say is I think Sharmba was more ready for the taking. I am not quite sure whether Kostya is yet, but I think Sharmba was probably ready for the taking in that fight. If that fight would have gone six to eight rounds, he would have probably got more knowledge of just how ring rusty he actually was, but because the fight was over early, we could not see that. But he has not done many rounds lately. So that could be a better thing for me or that could mean he is fresher. I do not know whether he is ready for taking, but I do believe he is going to get beat.
Question: Will this fight turn into a slugfest at some point?
Hatton: It has every chance of that because, obviously, Kostya Tszyu is a nice, genuine person like me who does not do a lot of bad-mouthing or running off at the mouth. I think he has a huge confidence and self belief and I think just the fact somebody saying to Kostya Tszyu that he might be fighting somebody who could match him strength-wise could mean we stand there and have a war. Anything could happen in this fight. If Kostya wants to try and hold me out for a few rounds, I think that will work in my favor. But if he wants to have a toe to toe slugfest with me, obviously, there is risk involved in that, but either way I can adapt my style. I have every confidence I can adapt my style.
Question: Are you concerned about cuts or bruises any more than you would be for any other fight?
Hatton: No, not particularly. It was interesting to hear that Kostya said that he has seen several fights of me that I cut and bruise very easily. That is a good thing from my point of view because if has watched the tapes like he says, he will know that I have not got cut in my last nine fights. I think that shows how much I have been improving. It is a little bit of a negative way to look at the fight. I am not overly concerned about that. If it happens, I will deal with it the best I can.
Question: How do you feel about Frank Warren now bringing you the biggest fight of your career in your own backyard?
Hatton: I always had faith that Frank Warren could deliver the big fight, but obviously Frank Warren was working to get the fights on the best terms for me. So at the time, I was totally fed up with boxing because of all the promised fights, but I was not getting the big fights. So it just got me down, that’s all. But now I can sit back and say it has all turned out for the best because obviously now I have got the biggest fight possible.
Question: You are a very bright and articulate young man. Had you not chosen boxing, what profession would you have chosen?
Hatton: I would have liked to been a football player and play for my beloved Manchester City. In the early days when I was a school boy, there was a small chance that I could have done that because I was on the city’s books at the FA School of Excellence when I was a 13-14 year old. About the time when I was boxing there as a young school boy, I could not get any fights. So I was out every night of the week weighing in at shows to try and get myself as much opportunity to get a fight. Therefore, I kept missing my training sessions and Manchester City let me go. That made the decision for me. It was clear to see that my talent was more in the boxing than it was in the football.
Hatton: I am very confident. I understand that I am the underdog and it is a move up in class. Obviously, I have beaten some good men, but I have not beaten anybody along the lines of Kostya Tszyu. A lot of the people in America do not really favor me to win this fight, but just sneak off to the bookies and put just a few quiet dollars on me. You might surprise yourself.